Ellie on James O’Brien show, LBC

A woman holds a placard.  No more deaths from benefit cuts.

Well done, Ellie, on James O’Brien’s show on LBC Radio, 9 August, talking about who the government is likely to go for next, after people seeking asylum. Listen below after lead-in, or read text:

Text:

James O’Brien:   Bye-Bye. 1139 is the time. Ellie’s in Kilburn. Ellie, what would you like to say?

Ellie:                     Oh, hi James. I’m kind of answering your middle question about what do you think they’re going to campaign on next [after targeting people seeking asylum]? As a person living with disability, I can see that we’re gonna be the next kicking.

James O’Brien:   Oh, do you really worry?  

Ellie:                     Yeah, yeah. Because, the thing is, I’ve lived with disability most of my adult life, and I’ve seen how the changes have come about. And Ian, middle name Smith, who made all those big changes with changing Disability Living Allowance into Personal Independence Payment, and forcing everyone to be reassessed every year, no matter how traumatising that was, no matter how underqualified the assessors were, no matter how little one’s condition changes from one year to the next.

James O’Brien   Yes.

Ellie:                    … was a performative cruelty that went completely under the radar for the majority of the British press. And I can see that that has continued and will make a very convenient next whipping boy for them if they want to — anyone on long-term disability.

James O’Brien:   Well, they won’t call you that. They’ll call you long-term unemployed.

Ellie:                     Economically inactive.

James O’Brien:   Economically inactive is part of it as well.  It’s so…  

Ellie:                     It’s a way of saying that you are taking up space and not giving anything, and that’s just not true. 

James O’Brien:  So sorry.

Ellie:                     A lot of people with disabilities contribute an enormous amount of society in all sorts of ways that don’t get trumpeted or noticed.  

James O’Brien:   You are absolutely right. I wasn’t meaning to interrupt, sorry Ellie. How has your life changed in the last 13 years – measurably.

Ellie:                     Well, I was fortunate enough to have been evicted from my housing during a Labour government, and in a Labour borough, which meant that they actually did have enough housing of a suitable kind for my particular needs. And that was 26 years ago. And when I moved into my flat, which saved my life, I had benefits and disability benefits enough that I could have a bath every day. I could run my heating in the winter whenever I needed it, and I could pay all my bills and food and have a social life. And in the last years, it’s been extreme because of all sorts of things outside of political control, the fact of the matter is, I have a bath once a week if I’m lucky. I’ve not used the heating for the last 10 years at all, unless it was extremely cold. And I manage my money very carefully because I don’t have family to depend on, and I can’t get into debt because I can’t get out of debt if I get into debt.

James O’Brien:   So this is simply the calculation between what’s coming in and what’s going out limiting what you can do.

Ellie:                     Exactly. I live that way. It’s okay. But I’m getting older now and I’m getting arthritis and my flat is damp and the things I could put up with 10 years ago, I can’t. And there’s less money now and more pressure and everything costs more. So I’m gonna be 60 next year, and in my mind, that was when I was going to retire, which would’ve meant coming off the rat run of assessments and reassessments for disability and moving on to a pension, which would’ve given me a peace of mind at least, of not being continually reassessed for everything.  But now it’s 67, so I’ve got seven more years of possibly annual reassessment and the stress and the anxiety that affects my physical illness. I have to go into hospital often for three and a half weeks after an assessment process, because it’s so distressing.  Which costs the NHS and Social Services about the equivalent I get in a month, it will cost them in each day that I stay in care.

James O’Brien:   I mean, it’s just, it’s inefficient. It’s silly.

Ellie:                     It’s insane. Honestly, James, it’s completely, it’s short term performative cruelty, so they can wave a thing about saying we’ve got yay many people off disability benefits. And then 75% of the people who are taken off disability of benefits, who have the courage and the stamina and the support to go for a reassessment through a tribunal, they get their benefits back and more, but a lot die in that process.

James O’Brien:   They’ve got the stomach for the fight and the support.

Ellie:                     People die in the process because they’re so distressed. They don’t have support, they don’t have the mental capacity to answer a letter within the time period. So they’re sanctioned. It’s really very, very distressing how this has gone under the radar. Nobody in the media wants to talk about it. Like you were saying, it’s not sexy. It’s not anything that’s gonna grab headlines – oh, another disabled person committed suicide, another disabled person starved to death. You know, another person was left for three years and nobody noticed that they were dead in their bed for three years. You know, it’s very frightening, and I think this is where they’re gonna put their target, their enmity next.

James O’Brien:   I hope you are wrong.

Ellie:                     I do too. But I can see it. Welfare for work and all of that is coming again. They’ve tried it before and it kind of stumbled and failed because they employed very inefficient profit making companies that didn’t do what they said they were going to. But I have a feeling that this is where they’re going to try and put the target on our backs again. And it’s bad enough that people with visible disabilities are targeted much more — in the same way as our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters are suffering more and more, through performative cruelty. It spreads like a cancer.

James O’Brien:   Anybody different, I suppose.

Ellie:                     Anybody different? I’d say anybody different. And the more obviously different you are, the easier a target you are. I don’t go out at night. I don’t go out after dark because I don’t really want to put myself in risk. So my world is just getting smaller and smaller with this government and other Conservative governments. And like I said, we live behind closed doors, a lot of us.  Some people obviously are really fighting for our rights, but for me, I’m clinging onto it by the edges basically, and hoping they don’t notice me.

James O’Brien:   I’m so sorry to hear this, Ellie, and, and to have so little to say in response except  comforting words. It’s incredible. Who, when you say people are fighting for you, who are you talking about? Maybe I could find out more about them.

Ellie:                     Well, there’s a fantastic organisation based in Kentish Town called WinVisible. They support women with visible and invisible disabilities — through the benefit system, through the legal system. They’re part of a wonderful women’s charity support called Crossroads [Women’s] Centre. And they do amazing work. I try to contribute as and when I can, maybe write a little article for their blog and so on. And contribute to supporting the [activities on] reassessment of benefits. And trying to put right some of the errors that were made in [the DWP] White Paper. But, you know, it requires stamina, which is something I don’t possess, frankly. That’s kind of the nature of my disability really.  

James O’Brien:   Well, I’ll definitely look into that and I’ll definitely take your call next time you ring in. I promise you, Ellie. And in the meantime, all I can do is promise to keep you company. Well, especially on the bad days. Uh, I’m so sorry. So sorry to hear what you’re going through.

And you must know that the texts coming in suggest that an awful lot of people, your words resonate with. “She’s 100% right”. [Someone] adds: “Sadly, I don’t think Labour will be helping out people like her.” Julie says, you speak for hundreds of thousands of people, the social contract has been broken, right? Anthony: “Do we need to actually put this stuff in law? No citizen can be without housing, healthcare, and basic income.” But you know, and I know that as soon as Anthony says something like that, there’ll be somebody saying, well, why are we feeding people on that barge?

James O’Brien:   I’ve seen a Daily Mail columnist today complaining that [people seeking asylum on the Bibby Stockholm prison barge] they’ve been fed toast. It’s such a sort of free pass [to abuse people], isn’t it? People that haven’t given a monkey’s about anyone in any difficulty for the last 13 years, whether it’s children going hungry, same people that attacked Marcus Rashford for trying to sort out free school meals. We’ll be claiming this week we should be looking after our own. It’s just crazy how, I dunno what the word is, bent, I think how bent they are. But, but thank you Ellie. Uh, on behalf of everybody whose plight you have represented.  It’s 11.49. I’ve got Chris Bryant in the studio. Next, the MP, well, you know who Chris Bryant is. He’s written a very interesting book, Code of Conduct, Why We Need to Fix Parliament and How to Do It, which — actually there was no plan. There never is on this flipping show. It’s right old shower. But it does fit with the sense of disillusion, with much of politics that has seeped through the cracks in the course of this morning’s conversations.

Thanks to @mrjamesob

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